The Colony Studio Theatre has mounted a glorious production of “Candide,” but , despite Leonard Bernstein’s quirky, sometimes brilliant score, Hugh Wheeler’s book is a thudding bore. But this production works well, due to a talented ensemble and an innovative production team headed by director Evan Weinstock.
The musical–originally performed in 1958 and revised in 1973, the version used here–opens with introductions of the ever-optimistic Candide (Chris Van Vleet), his beautiful and beloved Cunegonde (Rachel Sheppard), the even more beautiful Maximilian (Tom Shea) and the lustfully amoral servant girl Paquette (Christina Botek), who are living in the kingdom of Westphalia.
As students of Pangloss (Timothy Davis-Reed), they blissfully adhere to their teacher’s philosophy that since this is the only world they have, it must be the best of all possible worlds and, therefore, everything that happens must be for the best.
The four students strive to keep their optimism despite eventually being subjected to all the devastation and depravity the real world can heap upon them.
Unfortunately, part of the devastation is Wheeler’s ponderous text, which starts to sink somewhere between Cunegonde being ravished by nine regiments of Bulgarian soldiers and Candide suffering the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition.
The combined efforts of lyricists Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche are no help.
The good news is that director Weinstock has marshaled the talents and energies of the Colony ensemble so effectively that one forgets the words and simply enjoys the show.
The highlight of the show has to be soprano Rachel Sheppard’s hilarious coloratura rendering of the courtesan ditty, “Glitter and Be Gay.” She hits all the notes (even Bernstein’s sadistic high E) with comedic ease.
Van Vleet smiles his way effectively through Candide’s continuing bad fortune and displays a pleasing tenor voice. Though he takes on many guises through the show, Davis-Reed is at his best in his Groucho Marx-like turn as Professor Pangloss.
Shea is believable as Maximilan and Christina Botek manages to maintain an air of innocence as she good-naturedly succumbs to any male who asks.
The 12-member ensemble is terrific, portraying myriad roles and lifting the roof off with their gleefully evil rendition of “Bon Voyage.”
Designers Susan Gratch, Jamie McAllister and Ted C. Giammona, as well as music director Steven Applegate and pianist/conductor Frank Basile are first-rate contributors to the production. Musicians Frank Basile, Nancy Carr, Maria Gianque and Eric Heinly make Bernstein’s difficult score sound easy.